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What’s next for baseball amidst coronavirus outbreak?

From autograph bans to the season potentially being delayed, what could be the next big restriction in baseball as the coronavirus grows?

MLB: Spring Training-New York Yankees at Philadelphia Phillies John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It seems like every few minutes, another coronavirus update is released. Whether it be another confirmed case or an event cancelled, the stories from across the country have been nothing short of concerning, to say the least.

Things started to get really bad on Wednesday. The morning opened with the World Health Organization declaring the COVID-19 outbreak a global pandemic. Not long after, the sports world was hit with several blows as events were nixed.

First, the Ivy League announced all spring athletic programs were being cancelled, meaning no lacrosse, baseball and softball (among other sports) for the Ivies. This followed their announcement Tuesday that declared they were cancelling their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments, instead deciding to send the Yale men and Princeton women to their respective March Madness tournaments.

Next, San Francisco and Santa Clara declared bans on mass gatherings, causing the Golden State Warriors to announce they would play their Thursday game without fans in attendance. This also caused the Giants to cancel their exhibition game against the Athletics near the end of March.

Then, Seattle declared a similar ban on mass gatherings, causing the Mariners to frantically search for a temporary stadium since their first seven games were supposed to be played at T-Mobile Park.

After that, a massive blow was delivered as the NCAA announced their men’s and women’s basketball tournaments would be held in empty arenas, forcing March Madness fans to crumble at the idea of a broadcast without fan enthusiasm.

It seemed as if this was the end of the coronavirus drama for the day, but late in the evening, Rudy Gobert of the NBA’s Utah Jazz tested positive for coronavirus. The Jazz-Thunder game was cancelled and the NBA quickly made the decision to indefinitely suspend their season, leaving the community in shock as they tried to process the hiatus that awaits them.

Immediately upon the news out of the hoops world, the baseball community took to social media to ponder what the next step could be for Major League Baseball. Here are a variety of possibilities that could find their way to baseball sooner rather than later.

Cancellation or Modification of Spring Training

Erring on the side of caution is extremely critical and it would not be surprising to see the league nix the rest of Spring Training with Opening Day just two weeks away. A large spectrum of possibilities awaits this potential outcome, ranging from minor to severe.

A possibility on the less-impactful end of the spectrum would be banning fans from stadiums during all Spring Training events. This scenario would likely see the league ban all nonessential personnel from entering facilities used for both practices and games. Essentially, such an outcome would reduce the mass gatherings of fans without completely ending Spring Training.

Speaking of ending Spring Training, that would be one of the more severe outcomes. This decision would have several more possibilities inside of it. This would mean practices and games come to an end, media access to players is completely halted, and nonessential personnel are not allowed anywhere near team facilities.

Postponement of Opening Day

This scenario is the most enticing to fans but would not be very logical. Such an outcome would include the league decide to push back their Opening Day. For the sake of this story, let’s say the first game would be pushed back roughly a month. That sounds great, of course, as it gives time for the outbreak to weaken and everyone to regain their health.

However, logistics also come into play. A delayed Opening Day teams could be forced to play on a shortened schedule (roughly 140 games), which could strike another nerve between the league and its players’ union due to service time complaints and the issue of being contracted for 140 games versus 162.

Another concern would be the weather. If the season’s length remains at 162 games, regular season baseball would last into November and the World Series would be played in December. That is frankly not possible due to the threat of weather conditions, especially in colder states where snow blankets the ground in early November.

Large Gathering Bans

As we have already seen in Ohio, Washington, and parts of California, a ban of large gatherings is a realistic possibility at this point. Baseball could continue with their normal schedule for the simple sacrifice of banning fans from the stadium.

The league would take a hit by losing ticket and concession sales, but at least the season wouldn’t be canceled. This approach is already being taken by the Warriors and the NCAA, and was previously used by the Orioles during the Baltimore Riots of 2015.

Verdict

The league will surely explore multiple opportunities as they hold a conference call on Friday to determine the best possible resolutions. In the end, it seems likely that they will play games without nonessential people, but even that has several cons to it. Major League Baseball has a tough decision coming up and it will be fascinating to monitor how this saga unfolds going forward.